Step inside the retro experience at Holmfirth's The Carding Shed

The Carding Shed is a vintage themed experience housed in a Pennine mill. Paul Kirkwood enjoyed a trip down memory lane.

Dining at the Carding Shed is lunch as theatre. You’re served to the sound of 1960s pop classics by waitresses wearing polka-dotted dresses and cardigans tied at the waist. You half-expect them to burst into song and find yourself in a flash mob.

Tables are set beneath motoring ephemera including lamps, oil cans, a Penny Farthing and Chopper bike, all hung by wires from the ceiling while old steering wheels, US number plates and radiator grills, and enamel Shell and Firestone signs adorn the walls.

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Other signs, hinting at the mill’s past, refer to “Angora waste only” and the winding, twisting and spinning offices. A Mini Mayfair is parked in front of the specials board. It’s an extraordinary scene in the most unlikely setting in a 200-year-old woollen mill hidden in the concertina folds of the Holme Valley.

Ian’s wife Nicola in the retro-themed Oil Can Cafe.

The adjacent classic car workshop and showroom is equally striking. Vehicles under restoration or for sale routinely include Mercedes, McLarens, Rolls Royces, Ferraris, Porsches and Aston Martins from throughout the 20th century. Pride of place currently goes to an Armstrong Siddeley saloon car from 1939 while the most valuable vehicle to gleam under the mill skylights has been a Ferrari 250 GTO replica.

“We started a snowball rolling at the top of a mountain and it just got bigger and we can’t stop it.” That’s how Ian Kellett, who founded the Carding Shed, near Holmfirth, sums up the development of this unusual two-sided business consisting of IK Sport Classic and the Oil Can Cafe.

Ian began as a mechanic, then service manager with a BMW dealer and, later, with JCT Group in Bradford. He switched to Grundy Mack, a classic car dealership in Huddersfield, before it relocated to Malton. Unwilling to move, Ian set up his own dealership in 1998 at Dobroyd Mill, Hepworth.

Ian takes up the story: “After 11 years, the landlord decided to knock down the part of the mills we were based in and move us to another floor which we had to take all of, which meant overnight we went from having 12,000 square feet to 48,000 square feet. We were already storing cars at this point and turning customers away so we thought we could expand that side of the business as well as the workshop which was a bit too small.”

Owner Ian Kellett at IK Sport Classic, the car restoration arm of the Carding Shed in Holmfirth

At the time Ian raced and prepared cars for customers to race at the Goodwood Revival festival, an annual historic meeting at the old motorsport circuit in Sussex. All fashions and cars on site must date from before 1966, the year when the venue held its last official race.

“Eight or nine years ago when my wife Nicola and I were down there and dressing up, we were wondering what to do with the rest of the space we’d got in the mill,” he says. “Nicola came up with the idea of displaying race cars we were restoring in a reception area.

"Then we thought we’d set a little kitchen up for tea and cake, thinking that if we did about 35 servings a day we’d be happy. Over the first weekend we did about 300! The cafe went from strength to strength. We also did wedding receptions, rock and roll events and brass band concerts.”

Nicola was ideally experienced to develop this new side to the business as she had established the Nicola’s Gateaux bakery in Meltham as well as a clothes and shoe shop. She had recently retired but was doing Ian’s books.

Grinding panelman Andy Churchill in the workshop,

“As our lease at Dobroyd neared expiry, we began looking for somewhere else,” says Ian. “The landlords of Washpit Mills down the road didn’t know what to do with part of their complex, especially in the face of competition from all the big sheds going up in Barnsley and Wakefield. They’d been up to Dobroyd with the idea of setting up something similar at Washpit.”

The subsequent move was a coming together of minds. “The mills are about the same size but Washpit is nicer and drier to the point that Nicola and I decided to live here in a flat,” adds Ian.

Building work, including a bakery, began in autumn 2017. “There were five or six huge pits under the old carding sets, about three metres wide, 20 metres long and two metres deep. The landlord had filled them all in with the exception of one pit that was suspended on a framework over a floor. It couldn’t be filled with hardcore as there was no knowing how much weight it could take. A customer, a civil engineer, who overheard a conversation I was having suggested the solution of filling the void with blocks of polystyrene and concreting it over.”

Nicola set up a vintage clothes shop within the mill but it has since closed as prices were being undercut by suppliers selling direct online. The shop is now a room for function hire and a cafe. The look of the Oil Can Cafe takes after the Drivers’ Club at Goodwood, particularly the counter supported by oil barrels that inspired its name.

Classic car mechanic David Osborn working on a Jaguar XJ12

When the business began operating from Washpit in 2018, Ian, now 65, signed it over to his sons, although he’s still on hand to provide them with the benefit of his experience. Ben is in charge of operations while James is a silent partner, working as cabinetmaker and joiner in a workshop in the mill.

“We sell cars on behalf of clients on a commission basis,” says Ian. “They come from around the globe, including Dubai, Malaysia and all over Europe. I don’t like to see some of the English cars going abroad but if you’ve got someone from overseas wanting to buy you’re not going to turn them away.

"We get a bit blasé about the cars we have. If someone comes in with a really expensive car, you look at it and say ‘yeah, that’s very nice but we’ve had about three of them in before’”. IK Sport Classic also stores cars including 19 vehicles for one customer.

Ian describes the items displayed in the café as “an eclectic collection, a mish-mash of bits and pieces from a bygone age”, adding: “I’m a collector and a hoarder. The mill signs mostly came from Dobroyd. Customers give me items from garage clear-outs or, in one case, a rusty oil can someone found when walking the dog.

"A lady in Holmfirth was clearing the overgrown garden of a house she’d bought when she came across a sign for Karrier Company, a commercial vehicle manufacturer in Huddersfield. Although she’d been offered some decent money for it, she let me have it because she wanted the sign to stay local and for her grandson to be able to come and see it.”

The bicycle collection started with two bikes ridden by Ben when he sought to become a professional cyclist in his early 20s and has again grown through customer donations.

“Washpit has a lot of nice memories for people,” says Ian. “The first time we walked into the mill we had the feeling it was saying ‘thank goodness, I’m now going to have something going on that I’ll enjoy’. “It’s a whacking great mill and it’s the best thing ever....It’s very welcoming and protective.”

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